Proof of God?

August 24th, 2016

During my last vacation days of the summer, I enjoyed reading David Gelertner’s The Tides of Mind. Gelertner is a professor of computer science at Yale, a pioneer in the Internet and predictor of the rise of social media, among many other accomplishments in tech fields.

His book, though, is about what he calls the “spectrum” of the mind, ranging from reasoning at the top of the spectrum to dreaming at the bottom. The ideas are much more complicated than my summary indicates, but the writing is lucid and the reader is given much to think about. For example, I had never reflected on the peculiar state of consciousness that we have just before we sleep.

Gelertner is apparently a practicing Jew and there are hints of his faith here and there in the book. I”ll close with one of his most provocative comments: “I think that, in truth, nearly all of us do believe in God, although we don’t realize it ourselves…The original, most basic repressed idea of the modern psyche is our belief in God. The fact that we do believe proves nothing, except how much mind fashions change, and how much they matter. It’s just interesting…”–J. Douglas Ousley


Religion and Politics, Encore

August 8th, 2016

At a Supper Group meeting last night, I suggested that we avoid discussing the upcoming presidential election. I knew there were strongly held opinions scattered among the members of the group.

The group agreed with my request. However, the conversation still kept veering off toward politics; the words, “Trump” and “Clinton” kept appearing. Several times, I had to abruptly change the subject. The topic seemed inescapable.

One member of the Supper Group reminded us of the general admonition to avoid discussion of religion and politics. Now as part of a church program, we weren’t required to avoid religion! But this election is making it very hard to prevent arguments about politics, even among members of the same congregation. —J. Douglas Ousley

Revival Coming?

August 1st, 2016

A friend of mine who has a daily podcast, the Andrew Klavan Show, believes that a religious revival is coming. He bases his speculation on the alarming decline of values in the West. He believes that only with a renewed commitment to religion can our culture survive.

I have no idea whether this prediction will come true; Mr. Klavan expects to see evidence within five years. It’s certainly a nice thought.

Meanwhile, what is most disturbing in our own church is the continuing lethargy. At the national level, at least, there is little apparent initiative to try new programs that might lead to church growth.

On the other hand, a few seminaries seem to have been attracting younger and more able students, which bodes well for the distant future. Our own diocese is in the middle of a strategic planning program, with church growth as one aim. And of course religion–often of the fundamentalist variety–is growing in influence throughout most of the non-Western world.

I hope my friend is right. And I hope that if we do indeed see a revival of religious practice, that it’s the sort of faith that we can identify with. —J. Douglas Ousley

The View from Madison Avenue

July 26th, 2016

Since Incarnation has been located on the legendary street of advertisers since 1852, we naturally think in terms of how we as a church are perceived by potential “customers.”

What does the Episcopal Church brand say to people who pass by our churches? In the eyes of the average American, what do we stand for? How does our organization differ in values and purpose from, say, the Girl Scouts or the YMCA? And what can we as individuals do to promote our brand?

I have no easy answers to these questions. But I do think that promoting the brand has to begin at the top. In the Church of England, there are many new initiatives intended to promote the growth of parishes: Fresh Expressions, Messy Church, and leadership training, for example.

Granted, the C of E is much more centrally governed than the Episcopal Church. Still, it would be nice to see some new programs from the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council that put our name out to the public and make people want to come through our doors. —J. Douglas Ousley

Death on the Azure Coast

July 20th, 2016

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal published a picture of employees of the Hotel Le Negresco in Nice, France. They were standing on the Promenade des Anglais, where 84 people died last week, run over by a mad lone terrorist.

Two years ago, my wife and I stayed at the Negresco when we visited Nice; we often walked along the Promenade “of the English,” which is a block from the English church I have assisted various times over the years.

An additional reason to be upset by such suffering is the way such tragedies are mounting up. The official French mourning period of three days was hardly over when three police were assassinated in Baton Rouge, and the media raced off to cover another horrible event. Last week, a network news producer told me how she and a colleague were looking at “raw” news feeds last week and found themselves depressed.

It is with slight but significant relief that we can at least offer prayers for the victims of violence. That’s one thing we can do. God help us. —J. Douglas Ousley

Novel Ideas

July 8th, 2016

I love to read novels–so much that I confine my reading to my Thursday day-off and summer vacations. The rest of the time, professional reading has a priority.

Happily, a recent vacation gave me time to enjoy great fiction, including vintage a Mickey Spillane tough-guy detective story, Dressed to Kill, and a new thriller by Lisa Lutz, The Passenger. I grant that such works are certainly “escapist”–with exciting, impossible coincidences and superhuman talents. But these works do challenge our imaginations. The Passenger, for example raises fascinating questions about guilt and innocence–topics not uninteresting to the Christian.

Like films, novels challenge the imagination, and in so doing, challenge the soul. —J. Douglas Ousley

For Once

June 15th, 2016

For once, the church was on the right side. For once, we Episcopalians were ahead of the times.

We have for decades been taking heat for our support of gay relationships. We have long been in favor of gun control. After the Orlando massacre, we can be glad that none of our social and political positions would have encouraged the shooter.

But, of course, this is very small comfort as we pray for so many victims and their families and friends. And blameless as we may be as a church, this was a dark night for religion. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Dones

June 6th, 2016

A new book by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope discusses Church Refugees. It has the intriguing subtitle, Sociologists Reveal Why People Are Done with Church but Not Their Faith.

The authors focus on a subset of the increasing category of persons who respond to opinion polls by saying they have no religious belief–the subset of people who were once extremely active church members and who now no longer attend church. One reason these folks left was that they felt “judged” by fellow parishioners. They also felt weighed down by the endless meetings and other bureaucratic baggage of the modern church.

Whatever their reasons, these Nones are now Done with church. And the church is poorer without their energy and leadership. —J. Douglas Ousley

Church Tourists

May 31st, 2016

Summer brings visitors from all over the world to Incarnation, and it’s interesting to get their impressions of our church. Their first words are almost always: “What a beautiful church you have!” Accustomed ourselves to our church’s appearance, it’s good to be reminded how fortunate we are.

Summer is also a good time for us at Incarnation to take advantage of vacation travel to visit other churches. I often pick up new ideas when I attend other parishes. And I’m reminded of the breadth and extent of the Christian world.

Happily, Christians the world over are laboring in the vineyards of the Lord. —J. Douglas Ousley

Delusion of Grandeur?

May 24th, 2016

The Presiding Bishop has just announced a search for a new staff person to be director of government relations. Based in Washington, one can only imagine the cost to the Episcopal Church of salary, housing, office rental, and support staff.

The price seems hard to justify when one considers that the Episcopal Church represents less than 1% of the U.S. population. And the expense seems even more extravagant when one realizes that the positions our church leaders take on the various political issues are unfailingly predictable.

The six figure sum that underwrites this governmental office could keep half a dozen churches from going under. Maybe that would be a better way to spend the church’s money. —J. Douglas Ousley